Ketian Zhang's article is an important contribution to the literature on Chinese foreign policy and coercive diplomacy. Her research design, however, is not best suited to demonstrate the key findings of her study: China is a cautious bully; it employs coercion only infrequently; and as it grows stronger, it uses military coercion less often.1 For reasons discussed below, it is premature to conclude that China's “decisions about when to pursue coercion and which tools to use cannot be explained by focusing on material capabilities” (p. 119).

First, Zhang's decision to develop “a theory of coercion … in response to national security threats” means that every instance of coercion discussed in the article is a result of China's failed deterrence against a challenge from another state (p. 119). Zhang mentions but does not analyze cases of proactive coercion; therefore, her findings about Chinese coercion apply only to China's reactions to...

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